Wonders of Australia – Day Four

Wonders of Australia – Day Four – Monday 12 October 2015

Weather: Sunny, 22

It’s my first early start with pick-up at 7:15 for the Blue Mountains optional, so I was down to breakfast for 6:30. We have a smaller bus today with only ten people and a driver/guide. We do our hotel tour of Sydney to pick everyone up and then head out over the bridge, heading west.

Our driver/guide, Mark, gives us a lot of the same information about the bridge that I had gotten on my earlier excursions. Our first stop is the Featherdale Wildlife Park less than an hour outside the city. The early departure means we get there before the bigger buses show up.

On the way, the guide tells us that Australia has more than two hundred species of marsupials including the koala. It’s not a bear, it’s a marsupial, so you won’t hear anyone say koala bear here. The koala is a slow moving animal that spends a great deal of time sleeping. This is due to the fact that their primary food source, eucalyptus, is actually toxic.

Australia actually has a lot of creatures that rely on toxic substances for defence thanks to evolution. A creature, like the bluering octopus, uses toxic ink as a defence mechanism. As their predators developed resistance to the ink, evolution resulted in stronger toxins.

Other animals in Australia were introduced. The dingo came in with the aborigines thousands of years ago. The Europeans brought in the rabbit, camels, sheep, goats and cats. In some cases, animals were introduced to deal with pests only to become pests themselves. New Zealand learned that lesson as well.

We pull into the parking lot which is empty but Mark reminds us of the bus number because he said by the time we get out, the lot will be full. We have about an hour to see the park.

They all seem to love possums.

We go into the wildlife park and meet the wallabies first.

DSC00360lsThey’re small kangaroos and we can buy food for them. As the first ones to arrive, the little guys are hungry and eagerly awaiting breakfast.

DSC00355lnWe meet a wombat as well. It’s a relative of the koala. Evolution sent the koala into the trees and the wombats underground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next section includes the koalas. I knew I’d get a chance to hold one in Cairns so I skipped the line and took pics instead.

DSC00382mjMark told us that the koala is facing extinction due to habitat destruction and vehicle accidents. There are estimated to be about forty thousand in the wild and about four thousand are killed on the highway every year.Destruction of their habitat also stresses the animal and koalas don’t deal well being stressed. It can lead to Chlamydiosis which results in sores that become infected and kill the animal.

DSC00388mpHere I discovered a new low for the selfie stick. People with a GoPro on the end of the stick were sticking them inside the enclosures and right up to the face of the animals.

I mean, seriously. Get a camera with a little zoom and you won’t have to disturb and frighten the animals. Given how the koala doesn’t deal well with stress, this is potentially harming the animal.

(I would later see signs at other parks telling people not to poke the selfie sticks over the barriers. Yes, that is why there’s a warning label on irons telling you that it’s hot. Some people just don’t have the sense Mother Nature tried to give them).

DSC00387moAfter my own tele-photofest of the koalas, I moved on to the next section and was sure I heard a dog barking. I looked around for a dingo but couldn’t see anything but the birds.

A little farther on I came across a barking owl. Yeah, you read that right. The videos barks for itself.

I had to estimate how long it would take to finish the park, so I fed the rest of the food to more wallabies, including this little white guy, and headed to the shop for my fridge magnet.

DSC00420ntWe were all back on time and found our bus in the crowded parking lot. Before long, we move from the flat region of Sydney into the rolling hills of the Blue Mountains. Mark tells us that the Blue Mountains are actually an uplifted plateau that used to be underwater. Tectonic forces uplifted an area fifty miles wide and hundreds of miles long resulting in a plateau of sandstone. Mount Werong is the highest peak at 1215 m (3986 ft). The national park is one of eight areas in the region that were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and it forms part of the Great Dividing Range. The park was formed in 1959 covering 63,000 hectares (160,000 acres). Today, the park covers 267,954 hectares (662,130 acres).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Europeans first headed towards the Blue Mountains foraging for food. They found nothing in the valleys and couldn’t find a way across the mountains through the valleys. Instead they used the ridges and after a month, found a way across the hills and found a fertile plain that was able to sustain them.

A road would be built by convicts following the same ridge lines. The convicts were promised freedom when the road was complete.

Well, you want to inspire your workers? Yup. It took them two months to build a forty-seven mile long road.

The name Blue Mountains is believed to come from the colour of the haze that can sit on the hills. Some believe the oils in the eucalyptus trees produce the hue.

Our first stop was the Wentworth Falls lookout.

DSC00432ofI didn’t see the falls. The rocks were dry. I have a feeling that the whole valley would probably look a lot like the Grand Canyon if it weren’t for the trees.

Mark pointed out an area that had been affected by fire.

DSC00435oiThen showed us the trees around us. One type has a cone that will only release its seed due to heat, so a fire is necessary to propagate.

DSC00433ogThe other just requires high temperatures.

DSC00437okHe noted the eucalyptus or gum trees as some call them will sometimes explode in a fire as the sap gets hot and expands. Some types have multiple layers of bark that look like it has been shredded and this protects the tree in a fire. Today, the fire prevention service uses infrared and satellites to watch for hotspots.

Our next stop gave us a view of the Three Sisters.

DSC00442opAboriginal legend has it that the pillars were three sisters named Gunnedoo, Wimlah and Meehni. The women had fallen in love with three brothers from another tribe but were forbidden to marry. The brothers kidnapped the sisters and a battle ensued. To protect the sister, a powerful elder turned the sisters into stone. He was going to return them to human form but he was killed in the battle and since he was the only one capable of reversing the spell, the sisters have remained in stone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom here we went to lunch at a restaurant called The Boiler House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith only ten of us, we could all sit at the same table and it made for some great conversation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had the spaghetti for the main and apple pie for dessert. It was delicious.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was done, I went out to take a few photos of the great view.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom here, we drove to Govett’s Leap.

DSC00461pgLegend has it the area was named for a bushranger who robbed a bank and escaped on horseback. He was chased over the cliff by the police. Some say he had done so on purpose, others say it was accidental. And still more say it’s just a story and that the Leap refers to the falls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that Govett refers to the surveyor William Romaine Govett who worked in the area from 1827 to 1834 and had discovered the area.

Off to our right was the Bridal Veil Falls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA gorgeous spot and one day here only gives one a taste of what the Blue Mountains have to offer. The whole area really requires several days or more to truly appreciate. It even has a Hop On Hop Off bus. There are tons of walking trails and other activities.

DSC00451owOn our way back to Sydney, we stopped at the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens for some photos and the driver had champagne or orange juice for everyone.

DSC00467pmHere he showed us a tree called the Wollemi Pine was discovered in 1994 in a remote part of the Blue Mountains. It is considered to be a living fossil as it has no living relatives but is known from fossil evidence going back two to two hundred million years.

Only a few trees live in the wild and their location is kept secret to protect the trees although they’ve been found to be infected with a virulent water mold that would have had to be introduced into the area by an unauthorized visitor. The trees are very slow growing and the mature wild trees could be five hundred to a thousand years old.

DSC00471pqAfter a look around, we reboarded the bus and headed back to Sydney. We were going in the right direction as the late afternoon traffic was at a standstill for some distance. We went back over the bridge and I was third off on the hotel dropoff order.

When I got into the hotel, I asked the concierge if he could change my transfer time. Given that it had taken thirty minutes to get into the city, I felt the two hour window was a bit too short so I changed it to an hour earlier. I tried to check-in for my flight online but my Sydney to Cairns leg is Jetstar wouldn’t let me check-in online. Others have said they could so it might have been my fare type or because my booking was made via Qantas. The fine print said I could check in at the airport two hours prior, so my timings should be just right.

This is the one thing I recommend with this type of touring. Confirm all the transfers and check with the front desk about the day tour pick-up times. Most of the hotel front desk staff were able to tell me that a certain day tour always shows up at a certain time. If they don’t know, they were more than happy to call AAT Kings or Gray Line to confirm the timing and my pick-up. In one case, the timing had changed due to Daylight Savings but other than that, it went smoothly.

I picked up another Hungry Jack’s cheeseburger and spent the evening packing and downloading my pics. It was nice to get another early night, and after three nights, what little jetlag I had was nowhere to be seen.



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